Category archive: UCF Knights
There are consequences that come along with a departure. Being ineligible for the conference tournament is one of them for these leagues. Butler (Horizon) and Virginia Commonwealth (CAA) accepted that and got to the Atlantic 10 as fast as possible.
What school wouldn't do the same if the opportunity existed? Scheduling, television exposure and tourney access are the most important reasons -- outside of the financial benefits -- for being in a conference.
Take away the ability to play for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and the season can seem like a waste. Postseason bans, such as the one USC had recently and the one Connecticut will endure this season, take the air out of the season -- even if the schools and coaches do all they can to create a new goal of winning a regular-season title.
Even though both would likely be contenders for at-large berths, Butler and VCU took no chances.
Boston University, on the other hand, probably would leave for the Patriot League tomorrow if it could. The Terriers weren't pleased with the decision by the America East to uphold its bylaws, but they are stuck. The current team will have to deal with it.
Old Dominion and Georgia State were hoping the CAA would lift its ban, but it did not. Georgia State went as far as to explore trying to get into the Sun Belt sooner, but that didn't happen.
The Horizon, CAA and America East are actually not the norm historically.
After losing members in the past decade, the Big East, Atlantic 10, Big West, C-USA, Mountain West and WAC have not even broached the subject, much like the Big 12 didn't when it lost members to the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. The Big East didn't block West Virginia from playing in the conference tournament a year ago after it announced its hasty departure to the Big 12. Perhaps the smaller conferences are worried that the league will have only one bid and don't want it to go to the school with one foot out the door.
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSteve Fisher and the Aztecs will get a chance to compete in their final MWC tourney.
But when I asked some of the coaches playing in their final season in a conference, the question was met with near astonishment.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wanted to know if I was joking. San Diego State's Steve Fisher said he hadn't even heard of these conferences not allowing schools to participate. Utah State's Stew Morrill said he didn't think the WAC would do such a thing since previous schools that left weren't treated in that manner. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he would be incredibly disappointed if that occurred. (C-USA took away the conference tournament from the city of Memphis but didn't remove the Tigers' ability to play for the title.)
But what would happen if these conferences turned on the departing teams in 2013? It's too late to change the bylaws and isn't going to happen, but it's still fun to play the "what if" game.
What effect would it have had on the Big East to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse out of the tournament?
A serious blow. The league may be squabbling with the two schools -- and will do so in court with Pitt -- but it needs these two in the conference tournament as long as possible. Syracuse is a natural draw at Madison Square Garden. Taking the Orange out of the Big East would have been a major mistake. The Orange and Panthers still don't have a definitive arrival date in the ACC, but it's likely to be in the summer of 2013.
What would it have done to Syracuse and Pitt for a potential at-large berth?
Likely no issue at all. Both have teams that look like virtual locks for an at-large bid.
What would happen to the Atlantic 10 if Temple and Charlotte weren't allowed in the tournament?
Let's be honest: Charlotte won't be missed on its way back to Conference USA. But Temple's departure will be a hit, as the Owls have consistently been a major part of the A-10 tournament. Not having a Temple presence, prior to the Owls' exit to the Big East, would have hurt the tourney's debut in Brooklyn. Bringing in Butler and VCU will offset the loss, but Temple still is very much associated with the A-10 brand.
What if the Big West banned Pacific?
That would be just cruel. The Big West has had teams leave before, and it might happen again. Plus, this is coach Bob Thomason's final season after a quarter-century at his alma mater, and he said he has a team that could challenge for the Big West title. He has been a loyal member, and Pacific is leaving for the all-private WCC. No harm in letting the Tigers finish up, and it won't hurt the Big West one bit.
What if Conference USA blocked Memphis, SMU, UCF and Houston?
Then C-USA would have a tournament that lacked any sort of buzz. Marshall is a legitimate title challenger to Memphis, and UTEP should be in contention. If the Tigers had been blocked from being in the tournament, after it was taken from the city, C-USA's relevance during Championship Week would have been diminished even more. It's still hard to say how many Memphis fans will travel to Tulsa, Okla., but the Tigers do have a significant following. This was a smart move by the league to not play bitter politics with the departing members.
What would the Mountain West tournament be like without San Diego State and Boise State?
A bit less exciting. The Aztecs have been one of the consistent winners in the MWC with UNLV and New Mexico. Take SDSU, off to the Big West, out of the event in Las Vegas, and the tournament would lose luster. No offense to Boise, but no one would likely notice if the Broncos weren't invited. But SDSU matters a great deal. The Aztecs will be a top-25 team alongside UNLV. Taking them out of the conference tournament would have been a storyline the MWC doesn't need in March.
What would a WAC tournament look like without Utah State and San Jose State?
Not worth it. USU has been the benchmark program in the WAC since Morrill arrived. New Mexico State can't anchor the conference on its own. NMSU needs a rival, and Utah State has been that nemesis. San Jose State wouldn't be missed, but the Aggies' absence would have been a glaring omission in Las Vegas. Rebuilding Utah State will likely need the tournament to get a bid this season, but the WAC was in no position to be punitive. So the Aggies will have one final chance to represent the WAC before it joins SJSU and former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada in the Mountain West.
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSan Diego State could be the Gonzaga of the Big West under Steve Fisher.
So after another week of changes, the basketball winners and losers can be summed up this way:
The Big West: Getting San Diego State is a major coup for this league. Steve Fisher's Aztecs are going to be an NCAA tournament team on a regular basis and a national player for getting marquee games. SDSU has a chance to be the Gonzaga of the Big West. The Aztecs won't be as good as the old UNLV teams that won a national title, but being the dominant player that can attract marquee games and attention for the Big West is a great get.
The Big East: You simply can't make this three-team trade (Out: Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia; In: Central Florida, Houston, SMU) and not come out looking worse. The pool of teams the Big East had to choose from was small, but it still could have made a few more moves to appease football and basketball. The conference acquired new television markets, but the quality of play will go down and the matchups for the television partners won't be as palatable.
The 2013 season: If Big East commissioner John Marinatto gets his way, the Big East will have 19 members for one season when the three new schools come aboard and Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia have to stay. Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian will have a thankless job as he tries to schedule a season that will keep him up at night.
The ongoing fight
West Virginia: The Mountaineers want to play in the Big 12. The Big East says they have to stay. This will likely end up being decided by a judge.
Boise State: If coach Leon Rice can continue to improve the program, the Broncos can flourish in the WAC and become a player for a bid quicker there than in the Mountain West.
Houston, which has a solid recruiting class in 2012, and SMU have had their moments in the past, but the school that gets the tag as the one with the most potential of all the additions could be Central Florida. The Knights have a shot to make more of an impact in the Big East than South Florida has because of UCF's location and facilities. The Knights must stay out of the way of the NCAA's enforcement group after getting caught with violations that cost coach Donnie Jones the first three games of the C-USA season. Still, Jones has taken down Florida and Connecticut on neutral courts in each of the past two seasons.
The biggest question
When the 2014 season begins, will Louisville, Connecticut and Notre Dame be in the Big East? We just don't know.
Even after Central Florida (13-0) beat Florida in Orlando, new head coach Donnie Jones had no idea that four games later the Knights would knock off Miami in Sunrise, Fla. The Hurricanes had just swept through West Virginia and Ole Miss at home and were playing their best basketball of the season.
"It was in their backyard, they were playing extremely well and I was worried," Jones said as the Knights prepare to open Conference USA against Jones' former team (Marshall) on Wednesday in Orlando. UCF is now arguably the co-favorite with Memphis in C-USA.
Once the Knights knocked off Miami, Jones had great concern about going to UMass four days later. Second-leading scorer Marcus Jordan (16 points per game) had a sprained ankle, didn't play at the start but then wanted in the game. He played in the second half, hit six key free throws and the Knights won in Amherst by five.
"I had no idea we would be able to play on the road like that," Jones said. "These guys have found a way to buy in and really accept their roles. They believe we're going to win. It's been incredible. We're not the most talented individually, but we've got a lot of guys who come in and sacrifice with great energy and focus. That's the way it has been for the first 13 games."
Jordan has played with a sprained ankle. And Jones said center Tom Herzog (6.1 points, 4.5 rebounds per game in 11 of 13 games) has been playing with a fractured wrist.
"Marcus hasn't been able to practice the last 10 days with an ankle that has a softball on the side of it," Jones said of Michael Jordan's son. "He has a toughness about him. He is playing through this stuff."
Forward A.J. Tyler was also hurt, missing seven games in a row before Central Florida's tournament this past weekend, where the Knights beat Furman and Princeton. Furman had just blown out South Carolina prior to the trip.
Before the season, Jones had no clue what he had at UCF and with the Knights being picked in the lower third of Conference USA, there weren't high expectations within the conference, either.
The question now will be: Did Central Florida do enough to be in the at-large picture?
Well, the Knights won every game, including two neutral-site matchups against SEC preseason favorite Florida and a then-hot Miami. But they will have to do more in Conference USA -- as in compete for the title. The league was helped by solid, two-loss records in the nonconference slate by Southern Miss, Memphis and UAB, a decent 11-3 start for UTEP and even surprising 9-3 performances out of Marshall and Tulane.
Central Florida will know early enough if it's a real C-USA contender with road games at Southern Miss (Jan. 15), Memphis (Jan. 26) and UTEP (Feb. 2) within the first month of conference play.
Being ranked at No. 21 has certainly drawn national interest. Having MJ's son on the team doesn't hurt, either, especially when he's one of the stars on the squad.
"What hurt us in the league in the past is that the RPI would go down in the league and usually it was just how Memphis did, determined Conference USA," Jones said. "One thing we've done is build up our RPI. We have a chance. We've got a chance at an at-large bid if we continue to win games."
Playing Southern Miss, Memphis and UAB twice (UTEP only once) gives UCF more opportunities. That's what the Knights want, rather than facing the lower-level teams more than the top-level teams.
"There was so much unknown here," Jones said. "We were picked low because of the talent-level perception. But the kids have gotten better. They've picked up the system and they all stayed here over the summer. We're reaping the benefits and now we've been successful and are somewhere we've never been -- in the top 25."
But more important than the ranking or the undefeated start will be whether Central Florida can turn it into the school's first NCAA bid since entering Conference USA. They've done all they can do so far by winning each game, but the league isn't strong enough to carry this team through with more than a handful of losses and then only against top teams. So ultimately the Knights will still need a pretty gaudy record to be on the selection board in March.
Central Florida has been trying to establish its identity in Orlando and in the entire state for quite some time.
A program-changing win over Florida -- at a time when the school could be a candidate to join the Big East -- will help make the Knights relevant.
It also helps to have a Jordan to gain more national attention.
For the first time in his career, the talk about Marcus Jordan has nothing to do with his famous father, Michael, or anything that happened off the court -- from what gear he wore or how much he spent on a trip to Las Vegas.
Jordan scored 18 points in a 57-54 win over the Gators on Wednesday night at the Amway Center in Orlando. The only other double-figure scorer for UCF was Keith Clanton with 12. Jordan is averaging 17 points per game, shooting 48 percent on 3s and has led the Knights to a 6-0 record.
"It feels good," Jordan said by phone from Orlando. "I haven't always paid attention to what was said about me being Michael Jordan's son. I haven't thought about having to live up to how he played. I always just wanted to play my game and let my game speak for itself."
Central Florida still has to go to Miami and UMass in December but there is no reason to doubt that the Knights could be a contender in Conference USA along with Memphis, Southern Miss, UTEP, UAB and maybe Tulsa. Whether or not that occurs has a lot to do with Jordan.
Jordan has thrived in new coach Donnie Jones' up-tempo system. Jones, a former Florida assistant under Billy Donovan, made the rare move of changing jobs within the conference, leaving Marshall for Central Florida after the Knights fired Kirk Speraw. Jordan was a role player a year ago, averaging eight points a game. Now he's the featured player.
Marcus said he didn't entertain leaving during the coaching change. Having his brother, Jeff, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Illinois, has made the transition even smoother.
"I didn't want to sit out a year and the tempo is more of a free, loose style of basketball with pick and rolls," Jordan said. "I always thought that eventually my game would make its own name. I've worked hard in the gym and it's eventually paid off."
Marcus said his father texted him after the win Wednesday. He said his mother and sister were in the stands.
"He just said that he was proud of me making pull-up jumpers instead of always taking it to the hole," said Jordan. "This was definitely a huge win. We snapped a 19-game losing streak against ranked teams and the opponent was Florida. It was definitely a stepping stone for our program and our basketball program now we're getting nationwide attention. It feels good."
The Knights will have to avoid a letdown against SE Louisiana, Bethune-Cookman and Louisiana Lafayette in their next three games if they're to build on the momentum from the win over Florida.
"Everyone in the state wants to be like Florida," said Jones. "It was so good for our school. I've been excited about Marcus. He's worked extremely hard and he wants to play this style. He wants to create his own identity by what he does every day. He's got a great work ethic and his focus is better. He continues to work hard, stay humble and be a huge asset for us."
Jones said Michael Jordan has been to a few games and communicated with Jones, as well.
"He's been very supportive," Jones said of MJ. "Jeffrey has been sitting out and he's a walk-on, not on scholarship. He'll have one year to play next year. He's a huge asset to us and next season he'll come in and help us immediately."
"What's been important is that we're recruiting kids that fit this system," Jones said. "Kirk did a great job here. Marcus fits how we play and he has the ability to create his own shot in a pro-type offense. He can really score. He'll play the two or the three and we're working on him playing 10-15 minutes a game at the point."
Jordan is now officially on the national radar for nothing but his own name and game. That's a difficult thing to do for a son of a famous basketball player. It has taken Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III two-plus seasons to stand out on his own. No one would compare Sampson to his father. No one should ever dare think Marcus can equal anything his father accomplished. He has never attempted to mimic his father's career, nor could he come close. That's OK. No one would expect him to do so.
"It feels good," Marcus said. "All summer and spring I've been working out at 9 a.m. I finally have something to recognize me on the court, more than off the court."
According to a Mountain West official, league bylaws demand that a member play in all the major sports, meaning that TCU couldn't ship its football program to an automatic-qualifying BCS conference like the Big East and still keep its men's and women's basketball programs in the MWC.
According to a source, there has been preliminary discussions with the WAC to take TCU in everything but football, much like the WAC was willing to do with BYU. TCU is looking at options if it can't or doesn't want to go all sports in the Big East.
A Sun Belt official said Wednesday that there had been no contact about housing TCU's other sports outside of football. From a purely hoops standpoint, it wouldn't be great news for the Horned Frogs to go down a level in basketball to a one-bid conference, putting its basketball program on equal footing with nearby North Texas.
The Big East hasn't had official discussions with its membership yet about the format of a 17-team or 18-team basketball league, but there have been some internal discussions within the league office, according to sources.
The easy thing for the Big East to do is add TCU to give it a nationally recognized football program and then hope that current member Villanova bumps its football program up from FCS to FBS so that basketball doesn't have to be disrupted. Adding schools like Army or Navy for football-only would work since those schools put their other sports in the Patriot League. Temple might also work since football plays in the MAC, while all the others compete in the Atlantic 10.
Adding TCU and a candidate like Central Florida would move the basketball league to 18 teams, unless the Knights wanted to downgrade their men's and women's basketball programs at a time when they've poured millions into a new basketball facility. Like the Mountain West, Conference USA has a bylaw stating that no member can play sports in another conference. So in that scenario, UCF's other teams might compete in a league like the Sun Belt or Atlantic Sun or Big South.
As for the Big East, the league office is looking at the possibility of what a 17-team basketball league would look like in two years, assuming any invitation extended to TCU would be accepted.
The Big East has an 18-game regular-season schedule that calls for three repeat games under television contracts with ESPN and CBS through 2012-13. The contract is based on a 16-team membership. CBS and ESPN each get a choice of one of those repeat games. If the league were to go to 17 members, the 18-game schedule would remain the same (although the invitations could be put off for two seasons since a team like TCU couldn't join for 2011-12 anyway because of the late notice).
According to a source, in a 17-team league, each program would play every other team (16 games) and then play two repeat games (instead of three). That means a lower-level repeat game for a favorite like Pittsburgh would go away. CBS and ESPN requested Pitt and Villanova play twice and each received a game. The Big East then kept the rivalry of Pitt-West Virginia for another repeat game. Pitt's third repeat game is against South Florida. Under a 17-team, 18-game schedule, this game would go away.
If the Big East had to add two more all-sport members to get to 18, then it gets more complicated in basketball. The league would likely want to keep every team playing each other once for 17 games. That would leave only one repeat game, likely the rivalry game. If that occurs, the Big East would likely have to restructure its television contract with CBS and ESPN since both networks wouldn't get a chance to televise the same matchups during a season.
The Big East tournament would become another matter. According to a source, the conference couldn't add another day in Madison Square Garden to begin the tournament on Monday of championship week. The current tournament format begins on Tuesday. If the membership was determined to include every Big East team, then they would have to consider playing on a campus site for the first round, which would be challenging because a number of schools don't own the buildings (Seton Hall, Providence, etc.) and would have a hard time getting set dates.
The other option is to go back to inviting only 12 teams to New York, which may not be a popular topic among a number of schools, according to a source.
The league office expects a decision on membership within the academic year, but Villanova may have the first move since the Wildcats' decision to upgrade their football program would dictate whether the Big East needs to grab one or two more football members to get to 10.
According to a source, the Big East membership hasn't discussed a split of the football/basketball schools into two conferences. Of course, there are a number of issues with that split -- ownership of the conference funds, who owns the name of the league and a contract with MSG -- that would need to be worked out before anything of that magnitude could occur.
If you directed that question toward UTEP and Houston, it would probably be the Mountain West.
Football decisions drive the direction of conferences, though, and Conference USA isn't exactly a football powerhouse.
"Basketball coaches aren't in control of any of that," said new UTEP coach Tim Floyd. "They were humbled this summer to find out how important college basketball was in the overall scheme."
So the collection of C-USA schools are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future and what that means is that this league has to make its basketball marquee this season, as in a multiple-bid league that advances in the NCAA tournament.
Conference USA needs to become at least as valuable a basketball property as non-Big Six leagues like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.
UTEP went 26-6 and 15-1 in the conference last season, but was one of the final at-large teams selected to the NCAA tourney after losing to Houston in the conference finals. The fact that the Miners had to sweat out Selection Sunday is unacceptable.
"We need multiple teams in the tournament, and last year with UTEP going 15-1 and barely getting in is a little bit scary," said Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik, in New York City on Wednesday for a media day event intended to get the league more national attention.
AP Photo/El Paso Times/Victor CalzadaFloyd, seen here with the widow of Don Haskins, landed at UTEP after his controversial tenure at USC.
What's the identity of this league? It certainly has a host of second-chance coaches who have had plenty of on-court success elsewhere, like Floyd, UAB's Mike Davis, Southern Miss' Larry Eustachy, SMU's Matt Doherty, Rice's Ben Braun, East Carolina's Jeff Lebo and Houston's James Dickey. All of those coaches were considered on the rise at one point in their careers, but losing or off-court issues led to their search for a new home.
Donnie Jones went from Marshall to Central Florida, and former Division I head coach Tom Herrion took over the Thundering Herd. Those are two of the league's six new head coaches -- exactly half the league.
Conference USA's coaches preach the league party line -- as they did Wednesday -- about having more draft picks since 2005 than the Big Ten or Pac-10 (including this past draft). Memphis coach Josh Pastner said the league is played above the rim with plenty of athletes, "which makes watching this league fun for everyone."
Still, there is a perception problem. It's undeniable.
From March 2006 to January 2010, the Tigers played and beat 64 straight opponents from C-USA. It is tied for the longest Division I conference win streak of all time. So whether it was fair or not, the national attitude about Conference USA was that Memphis steamrolled through an inferior conference.
"I grew up around the Pac-10, coached in the SEC and coached in the Big 12 and it's strange to me how underrated this league is," Eustachy said. "My only thinking is that Memphis made such a mockery of it for  straight games, but then they made a mockery of Texas [and Michigan State and UCLA] in the NCAA tournament and should have won the national championship [in 2008]. People look at our league and think no one could beat them for  straight games.
"Memphis was great, but the league has never been more competitive and has great coaches."
UAB's Davis, who has been on the cusp of getting an at-large bid the past few seasons, said Memphis' dominance under Calipari completely overshadowed the league. Having the conference tournament in Memphis also hindered getting a second bid for the league. But a year ago, the tournament was in Tulsa and the league was nearly left with just one again after Houston upset UTEP in the championship game.
"Does this league have the opportunity to be better than the WCC, when it had three teams in with Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and San Diego? My guess is certainly yes, when you see the history of this league with the coaches and the players," Floyd said. "This league has to do what the Mountain West did last year and get four teams in and win."
The coaches know who has to be good for this league to ultimately survive in a changing, challenging college landscape. Memphis, UTEP, Tulsa, UAB and Houston have the most national name recognition with a national title in the group (Texas Western) and a few national championship game appearances (Memphis and Houston).
Eustachy says Southern Miss, with Angelo Johnson and Gary Flowers, are ready to challenge for the conference title. Their continued improvement would certainly help the league, but the Golden Eagles still don't resonate much nationally.
Scott Rovak/US PresswireExpectations weren't high for Josh Pastner's first season at Memphis. They certainly are for his second.
The pressure to be at the top still resides in Memphis.
"We need to be good; there's no doubt about that. We need to be good," Pastner said. "We've recruited well. We now have to perform well on the floor. That's the bottom line."
Eustachy disputes that Memphis has come back to the pack, despite missing the NCAAs this past season after four straight trips that included a title-game appearance, three Elite Eights and a Sweet 16.
"Memphis may have as good a players as Cal's better teams," Eustachy said.
Tulsa has had a rich history of NCAA tournament success under a plethora of name coaches like Tubby Smith, Nolan Richardson and Bill Self. Buzz Peterson won an NIT. Wojcik won a College Basketball Invitational. The Golden Hurricane had a great shot to be an NCAA tourney team last season, but weren't able to stand up and win the key games down the stretch when they had an elite center in Jerome Jordan, a second-round NBA draft pick.
"I think from a fan enthusiasm standpoint, they need us to be successful," Wojcik said. "What we need is multiple teams in the tournament."
To do that, though, the league's teams will need to start playing tough nonconference schedules in November and December -- and win some of those games, too.
That's not an issue for Memphis, which did that under John Calipari and still does so with Pastner. The Tigers play Miami and Georgetown at home, Tennessee and Gonzaga on the road and face Kansas at Madison Square Garden.
UAB has generally the same philosophy, and beat Butler and Cincinnati last season. The Blazers play Duke, Arizona State, Arkansas and Georgia this season. Floyd said he wants UTEP to have the scheduling attitude he had at USC, where he scheduled just about anyone to upgrade the team's power rating.
Tulsa has had solid shots to upgrade and does play in the Big 12 footprint, allowing it to get games with the Oklahoma schools. Southern Miss could use some success in Cancun this season, along with road wins at Ole Miss, South Florida and Cal that would greatly improve its national perception. Road wins always help.
"This is a process, but you've got to win those nonconference games and you've got to have 23 or 24 wins going into the conference tournament," Davis said. "It's difficult not to take a team that has closer to 30 wins than one that has 23 or 24. So if you can get to 25 or 26 or 27, you've got a better chance to get in."
A new identity for a host of schools that would probably like to be somewhere else would come if it could get multiple bids in the NCAA tournament and advance. Sounds easy enough, right?
"There are a lot of coaches in this league that have won a lot of games, a lot more than I have," Pastner said. "The league has gotten better. Memphis' dominance made everyone raise the level of recruiting and now the league has better players and is as athletic as ever before."
Five more observations from Conference USA media day:
1. So much talk was about the Memphis freshmen -- and it is a top-five class that deserves plenty of attention. But the consensus is that if the Tigers are going to be one of the nation's elite, then Wesley Witherspoon has to be a major presence. Memphis coach Josh Pastner is convinced that Witherspoon will be, or rather has to be, the star of this team.
2. C-USA put out its all-conference team, and one player was missing that could end up being a stud. UAB coach Mike Davis said Jamarr Sanders, a onetime guard at Alabama State, could be one of the best players he has ever coached. Sanders averaged 10.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game for the Blazers last season, but Davis said he was just figuring out how to play the game after sitting out a year.
3. UTEP's Randy Culpepper was tabbed as the preseason player of the year, but the question Davis had was whether Culpepper was going to be set free to go up and down or if he would be in more of a half-court set. If it's the latter, that could change Culpepper's effectiveness. UTEP coach Tim Floyd has been known to change to his personnel, and that's why without a real serious post threat (no Derrick Caracter or Arnett Moultrie), it's hard to see this team slowing down too much.
4. The best news for the teams that might be struggling in the bottom half of the league is that at least three have a star. Rice coach Ben Braun said Iranian Arsalan Kazemi, who played for the national team at the world championships in Turkey, had a sensational summer and should be ready for a major season. East Carolina's Brock Young and SMU's Papa Dia, who made the preseason first- and second-teams respectively, will at least provide a reason to watch the Pirates and Mustangs this season.
5. When you sit at lunch and see the collection of coaches in this league, it really is amazing. When you look around the table and see Larry Eustachy, Tim Floyd, Matt Doherty, Jeff Lebo, Ben Braun, James Dickey and Mike Davis and know that they were all in high-major conferences and are now in this league, it says a lot about the coaching business. It is a fickle one at best. Fame is fleeting in this profession, but there is almost always a second chance. Conference USA is the epitome of that.
Quick hits for Wednesday:
• Kansas coach Bill Self isn't messing around regarding the hype of incoming freshman point guard Josh Selby, a one-time Tennessee commit. "He's the most talented player I've ever recruited, definitely the highest-rated kid,'' Self said. "He's going to be a terrific player. He's my kind of player. I know that.''
Self is convinced that the addition of Selby takes the Jayhawks to another level. Kansas was losing the heart-and-soul of its top-rated team in point Sherron Collins as well as freshman wing Xavier Henry and junior big man Cole Aldrich. But the return of Marcus Morris up front and now the addition of Selby at the point (as well as plenty more than competent role players) makes KU a threat in the Big 12 yet again.
"Josh is athletic, fast, can score, and he's ornery,'' Self said. "We just have to harness that energy. But he'll be terrific.''
Self said Morris is as talented a returning player as any in the Big 12. He said Morris and Selby will be two lottery-like picks on the squad. "I like our team; we'll be more athletic this year, but we won't have the anchor inside like Cole,'' Self said. "We needed a personality and a presence. [Selby] is that. If he's able to come in here and adjust quickly, he'll have as much impact as any player we've had as a freshman since I've been here.''
• Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski turned down the best job in the NBA -- coaching the Lakers. He didn't pursue the Celtics gig. He was reportedly offered $14 million to go to the Nets, so he's not going to take the money.
Coach K gets his NBA fix by coaching the Olympic team. He doesn't need to coach LeBron James, an aging Shaq and role players. He gets the best of the NBA every summer. He doesn't have to go to Cleveland. There is no natural pull.
His family is completely woven throughout the Duke program, with his daughters working on various aspects of his program.
Coach K won a national title, his fourth, last season. He can win a fifth and create some distance from any of his rivals in years past. He has 868 wins and is within 35 of breaking his mentor Bob Knight's all-time record for wins in NCAA Division I (703).
He doesn't need the NBA. If it were burning in his heart, he would have gone to the Lakers. It's not. I would be stunned if he ever left for the NBA now that he's going for a second Olympic gold medal in 2012 with NBA players. There has been no indication that he has any interest in leaving Duke for the NBA.
• Chris Collins could have joined his father, Doug, with the Philadelphia 76ers, but he decided to stay at Duke, where he has been for the past decade. Collins' next move is to become a head coach with his own program, like former Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins. Expect Steve Wojciechowski to do the same soon, too.
"I love the niche in college,'' Chris said after his father's news conference in Philadelphia this week. "I get to do the NBA thing with the Olympic team [as a scout for Krzyzewski on opposing teams at the events]. I feel like I want my own program at some point. That's my next step, not jump to the NBA. It wasn't even discussed with my father. He knows where I'm at and how much I love it here.''
Coach K, Collins & Co. are the favorites to win the national title in 2010 with the return of Kyle Singler, who wouldn't have gone ahead of Nevada's Luke Babbitt or Butler's Gordon Hayward in the NBA draft (so he made the right call to come back), guard Nolan Smith and incoming teammate Kyrie Irving and Liberty transfer Seth Curry.
• Big East coaches voted to get rid of the double-bye in the conference tournament at their coaches meeting earlier this week outside of Jacksonville, Fla. But the athletic directors have to agree to do it as well. This would mean there would be no byes in games played, but the top four teams would play on Tuesday and then the winners not again until Thursday. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that nine of the 16 Big East schools are on spring break so missing a week of classes won't be as big a deal (they essentially go only on Mondays in the old format, with the rest of the teams arriving Tuesday). What will be interesting is to see how the Big East schedules the previous Saturday or Sunday with the top teams playing Tuesday (if it passes). It will also put more meaning on those Tuesday games if Syracuse is playing, let's say, Rutgers in a 1-16 game rather than South Florida-DePaul, which was the opener at noon last postseason.
• Mike Rosario, formerly of Rutgers, had to finish school and couldn't make it down to his new destination, Florida, for the first summer session. But coach Billy Donovan said he'll be down there by the middle of June.
Rosario might end up being one of the most important transfers Donovan has had in his career. Rosario, who won't be eligible until the fall of 2011, will push Kenny Boynton in practice every day.
"Last year we didn't have enough competition for those guys [the perimeter of Boynton and Erving Walker],'' Donovan said. "They needed more of a competitive atmosphere.''
Donovan said Rosario spent quality time with Boynton and Walker on his recruiting visit and informed them that he simply just wants "to win instead of coming here to steal shots.''
The Gators return all five starters from last season's NCAA first-round loser to BYU. The return of Alex Tyus, who wouldn't have been drafted, was a huge coup, so there is stability on this team, which wasn't the case when the Gators went two straight seasons without the NCAAs as well as losing players to the NBA draft (Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes).
But now the Gators will have to deal with expectations that they haven't had since winning the national title in 2007. This Florida team will be projected to win the SEC next season. "It will be a different challenge for these guys,'' Donovan said. "And our new guys will have to come in with a level of humility since they didn't go through what Chandler [Parsons], Tyus, Walker, Boynton and [Vernon] Macklin did the past two years. They had to endure some stuff.''
• Florida has a challenging schedule with Ohio State at home, at Florida State, Kansas State in Miami (home game for Wildcats coach Frank Martin), at Rutgers and at Xavier.
• Nassau's Atlantis will hold quite a junket for four teams in December. Tentative matchups are Richmond versus Georgia Tech and Mississippi State versus Virginia Tech in a doubleheader at the well-publicized hotel (side note: not sure they'll get a chance to go down that pyramid-like water slide, which my children would love).
• New Central Florida coach Donnie Jones said he understands the questions about his former Marshall player Hassan Whiteside in the NBA draft. Whiteside looked incredibly thin at the Chicago draft camp in comparison to other big men.
"He's got an NBA skill, the ability to block shots,'' Jones said. "He's definitely a guy with a lot of talent. He can shoot the ball, too. He's 20 years old, and I know that the NBA gets caught up in the age thing. But he's someone that you can coach.''
• Duke goes to the White House on Thursday for the annual champion visit. Not sure if senior guard Jon Scheyer will be able to make it to D.C. Scheyer is battling mono and couldn't attend the pre-draft camp in Chicago last week. Scheyer was so sick he couldn't attend graduation, either. If Scheyer doesn't get selected in the NBA draft next month he's almost assuredly going to get a deal in Israel, according to his representation.
If you put up blind résumés for coaches, much like we do with bubble teams, then you would probably pick Billy Gillispie and Tim Floyd for available jobs over a number of other candidates.
Rebuilding programs, win totals and NCAA appearances, save Gillispie's second season at Kentucky, would probably indicate that these two would be solid choices to take over programs.
Both coaches are well respected in terms of practice, game and tactical decisions. Both are hard-working. Both are tireless recruiters.
But both have baggage.
And yet Gillispie and Floyd are seriously in the running for three open Conference USA jobs: Houston, Central Florida and now UTEP.
Both have ties to UTEP. Gillispie engineered quite a turnaround at the school by taking the Miners to the NCAAs. He did the same at Texas A&M before his tumultuous stint at Kentucky. Gillispie took the Miners from six wins to 24 in his two seasons with the school. He took the Aggies to two NCAA tournaments in three seasons and one of two at Kentucky. Gillispie was fired at Kentucky and then had a rough offseason, as he was arrested for a DUI before checking himself into rehab.
The UTEP job might be more of a rebuilding situation if Derrick Caracter leaves, as expected, for the NBA draft. Caracter wasn't on the team charter back from San Jose last week after losing to Butler. UTEP officials are expecting him to declare for the draft and possibly not return to school to finish the semester.
Meanwhile, Floyd has coached in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets and all levels in college (Idaho, New Orleans, Iowa State and USC). He was an assistant to Don Haskins at UTEP before moving on to a head-coaching job.
Floyd's last college stint, at USC, ended with his abrupt resignation last year, and was marred by an NCAA investigation of violations, including an allegation that he paid O.J. Mayo's confidant Rodney Guillory $1,000 cash -- a charge Floyd denied. USC appeared in front of the committee on infractions in February, with a decision due sometime in the next month. Floyd was out of coaching for the first part of this season before being hired as an assistant on the Hornets' staff.
But what will it take to hire Gillispie or Floyd at one of these three jobs?
According to a few sources, at least one within Conference USA, there has to be a few things going for the schools to make these hires:
• A school president who is willing to take a gamble, who puts a premium on winning and who can stand in front of the media and handle the tough questions.
• A strong athletic director who is empowered by the president. The AD can't make this hire alone. But by making the hire, he is saying that he wants to win. At the time then-Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan hired Kelvin Sampson, Greenspan was in a powerful position. Sampson had already had NCAA issues at Oklahoma, and when similar violations occurred at Indiana the coach was forced out and, eventually, so too was Greenspan.
• Whichever school makes the hire, it would need to have a sympathetic community and fan base. Clearly, UTEP and Houston would fit this more than a potentially apathetic Orlando community around Central Florida.
If you remember, at the time Bob Knight was available, he needed this base to line up at Texas Tech after he was fired at Indiana. He had all of the above elements in place in Lubbock. The same was true for Bob Huggins when he was looking for work at Kansas State after being fired at Cincinnati.
No one disputes that Gillispie deserves a second chance. Floyd, however, will be an interesting case to watch. It might be hard to see if a school hires him before the NCAA renders its decision on USC. There is also a split view among a number of coaches of the timing of Floyd's decision to resign. His former assistants were a bit miffed at the time that Floyd didn't stand his ground and fight the allegations. He might not have had a choice from USC athletic director Mike Garrett, but the resignation caught a number of coaches, including his staff, off guard. Floyd has started to become more outspoken recently about not being supported by Garrett. That's why Floyd will need a sympathetic ear, and his best chance is likely at UTEP, where he is fondly remembered. Houston would likely do the same for Gillispie since he was so well-liked at nearby Texas A&M for helping turn the program around.
If they both end up in Conference USA, then it would truly be the landing ground for coaches in search of a second or third chance. Southern Miss' Larry Eustachy, one of Floyd's good friends, and SMU's Matt Doherty are two of the latest examples. East Carolina just hired Auburn's fired Jeff Lebo. Rice coach Ben Braun was fired at Cal.
Houston is looking closely at Floyd, Gillispie, Sam Houston State's Bob Marlin and Texas assistant Rodney Terry. UTEP will likely focus on Gillispie, Floyd and Marlin, while UCF has already targeted Gillispie, Floyd, Murray State's Billy Kennedy, Marshall's Donnie Jones, former Sacramento Kings and New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman and former Alabama and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried.
If Floyd and Gillispie are going to get back in as Division I head coaches at a high level, then it appears one of these three Conference USA jobs might be their best chance.
• Oregon is shooting large by going after Gonzaga's Mark Few, Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Florida's Billy Donovan. I'd be surprised if any of them were to take the bait. The money isn't as grand as what apparently is being bandied about. The facilities are expected to be beautiful, but Nike czar Phil Knight has always been about improving the infrastructure at Oregon more so than supplementing a coaching salary. Former Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny probably will be making the call. Oregon would likely go with a Nike coach and there is one that I think would be a great fit if the Ducks thought out of the box: BYU's Dave Rose, who has done a tremendous job with the Cougars. Everyone at the school from the president on down was superb in helping Rose out during his horrific pancreatic cancer battle over the summer. But it would be hard for Rose to turn down Oregon, if the Ducks were to look at him. Rose coaches an entertaining style that would be a great fit, and he's an A-plus person who would do wonders with the boosters. If not Rose, then non-Nike coaches Randy Bennett of Saint Mary's and Mark Turgeon of Texas A&M should be given a shot to at least decide if they want to move.
• I wouldn't be shocked if Tubby Smith listened to Oregon. But staying at Minnesota also makes sense with the Gophers poised to be in the Big Ten title chase next season. If Paul Hewitt were to leave Georgia Tech, that's the better fit for Smith.
• Hewitt to St. John's sounds great, but does Hewitt want to give up on Georgia Tech and the ACC? He has always told me how much his family loves Atlanta. He hasn't had problems recruiting talent to Georgia Tech. Unless it were a necessity, a coach shouldn't leave a football power-six school for a basketball-only school, regardless of its conference affiliation.
• There was no shot Donovan was leaving Florida for St. John's. I don't buy he's leaving Florida for anywhere at this juncture. He didn't go to Kentucky. He turned his back on the NBA. His family loves Gainesville. He's close with the top athletic director in the country, Jeremy Foley, and he makes $3.5 million a year.
•Houston coach Tom Penders was adamant that he was just resigning from Houston, not retiring. He said he has a lot of coaching left in him. Penders said the decision was his, not the school's. Penders, whose moniker is "Turnaround Tom" (not sure who coined that phrase), said he wants to coach again, as soon as next season. But he has to have a destination.
• Texas assistant Rodney Terry would certainly make a lot of sense at Houston. He has support. Let's see if he can get the gig. Keep hearing conflicting reports on whether Billy Gillispie of Kentucky, UTEP and Texas A&M fame can get the job. Marquette assistant Tony Benford, a native of Hobbs, N.M., and former Texas Tech player, has always recruited Texas well and deserves a look.
• Seton Hall alumnus Adrian Griffin, now an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks, has had initial conversations with the school about the opening. He is pushing his loyalty to the institution, his ties to the NBA, his MBA and his tutoring under Rick Pitino, P.J. Carlesimo, Scott Skiles, Jeff Van Gundy and others in the NBA. Griffin would likely be behind Siena's Fran McCaffery, Robert Morris' Mike Rice and Richmond's Chris Mooney. Still, the former Pirate will at least get a chance to be heard. He should since he's so passionate about the school.
• Central Florida's opening is creating quite an interest with Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, Murray State's Billy Kennedy and possibly Marshall's Donnie Jones, who was an assistant at Florida.
• Boise State's list continues to be a solid group: former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak, Portland coach Eric Reveno, Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice.
• If DePaul is serious about an on-campus arena with approximately 8,000 seats, it could change the job for the foreseeable future. But the Blue Demons must put a shovel in the ground for potential coaches to feel like there can be serious movement on the subject.
• Jeff Lebo's bounce back from fired at Auburn to hired at East Carolina is one of the better moves for a dispatched coach.
• Former St. John's coach Norm Roberts would go back to Kansas if Bill Self had an opening on the staff. But he also would like to be a head coach again -- next season. Roberts had the Red Storm playing at a high level, but couldn't close out a number of close games.
• A number of NBA personnel officials expect a floodgate of players to declare for the NBA draft with plenty making poor decisions with only a short window (end of April to May 8) to withdraw under a new NCAA rule.
• Fordham getting Hofstra's Tom Pecora would be a great get for local ties within the city. But Pecora still never coached Hofstra in the NCAA tournament. You can't hide from that fact. That doesn't mean he shouldn't deserve a shot at another school, but Fordham needs someone who has experienced the NCAAs to rise up from the depths of the A-10. Pecora is well liked in the city and beyond but hasn't been able to get over the hump in the CAA since Jay Wright left for Villanova. Hofstra would be a coveted job if it were open and assistants like Pitt's Tom Herrion would be near the top of the list.
• Penn hasn't officially hired Jerome Allen yet. Does that mean Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon could be in the mix?
• UC Irvine has a wide net to cast and it should include BYU assistant Dave Rice, who is as well connected in the West as any other assistant.
• Iowa was once a plum job. The Hawkeyes could do no wrong going with Dayton's Brian Gregory or Utah State's Stew Morrill, but UTEP's Tony Barbee would also be an interesting call if he's not in play at DePaul.
• Charlotte is one of the top jobs open with a chance to move up quickly in the A-10.
• It's still early, but if a major job opened, the coaching carousel will spin at a much quicker rate. So far the job list isn't as high profile yet.
The coaching carousel is in full tilt for the spring, and there were plenty of rumors to chase this weekend. Many of them proved to be untrue. Here are some of the things I culled from various sources over the weekend:
St. John's: Rick Pitino told ESPN.com on Sunday that he intends to finish his career at Louisville. Florida coach Billy Donovan told ESPN.com he's not involved at St. John's and he's "happy where I'm at." Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also confirmed to ESPN.com that he hasn't been contacted by St. John's, calling the bluff on any Donovan-to-St. John's story.
So where does that leave the Red Storm after the heavy hitters? Well, there is plenty out to choose from. If the Red Storm want Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg or Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, they'll have to get them in a clandestine way without any kind of formal search. Can it be done? Possibly. But the money has to be large, with assurances that there is a real commitment in place. I concur with Dick Vitale. If it ends up being another solid coach who doesn't have national name recognition, even someone with strong New York ties, why get rid of Norm Roberts?
Seton Hall: Siena's Fran McCaffery and Richmond's Chris Mooney appear to be strong candidates. That doesn't mean they're the only candidates, but the Pirates are said to be looking for a fresh face with a clean track record after the Bobby Gonzalez debacle. If the Pirates push, they can probably land McCaffery, while Mooney might be harder to pry away from an elite A-10 job. But both may have to think twice, given the talent returning to their respective teams next season.
Oregon: Mike Bellotti's decision to step down as athletic director makes it even more clear that former AD and influential Oregon booster Pat Kilkenny will make the hire with the nod from Nike's Phil Knight, who has invested in Oregon as much as any high-profile alumnus at any other school. Don't be surprised to see the next Oregon coach coming from the family of coaches who work with Nike. The next Oregon coach has be someone who can sell the program to the boosters and aid in filling the arena and the boxes. Gonzaga's Mark Few gets first crack, and then it could down the line with elite Nike-sponsored coaches such as Minnesota's Tubby Smith and recent Nike addition Jamie Dixon of Pitt. The level of interest for any on these coaches is unknown.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes formed a search committee on campus. This isn't a search for a new professor. The basketball coach must be a fantastic recruiter and energize a sleeping fan base at this moment. But they also need a proven coach. That's why the Hawkeyes could do no wrong with Utah State's Stew Morrill or Dayton's Brian Gregory. According to sources, both would listen if called. Morrill has been one of the most underrated coaches in the country for over a decade. Gregory has Dayton as an A-10 contender. Gregory was once in the Big Ten as an assistant under Tom Izzo.
Central Florida: Three interesting names keep floating up here: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, former Alabama coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, and Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson. UCF needs to make a splash of a hire. Theus would certainly fit that description.
Boise State: Here's who is not going to Boise: LSU's Trent Johnson. I spoke with him Sunday, and he reassured me that any chatter of him going back to Boise was ridiculous. He said he has one of the top recruiting classes coming to Baton Rouge. Now, former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak is a viable candidate and is seriously in the mix. But so too should be Portland's Eric Reveno. Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice are on the radar. Boise State should be a coveted job since there could be a day in the near future when Boise State joins the MWC.
• If Penn hasn't hired interim coach Jerome Allen yet, there could be some movement with Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon. I'd still be surprised if Allen didn't get the job.
• IPFW's Dane Fife is expected to be in play at Toledo. But the more Ohio State wins, the likelier it becomes that you could see someone like Jeff Boals. Don't be surprised when the MAC looks to the Big Ten for hires.
• Hawaii hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold because of his strong local ties. His father, Frank, was the former coach there. Expect Arnold to keep up a mix of international players with mainland JC players and high school seniors to get the Warriors back to relevance.
• As for Charlotte, Buzz Peterson worked for the Charlotte Bobcats, so going to Charlotte from Appalachian State would make perfect sense. I've had a number of coaches say the Charlotte job is one of the best in the A-10.
• Houston coach Tom Penders resigned Sunday, according to multiple reports. While Texas assistant Rodney Terry should be in the mix, is there anyone who doesn't think former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie gets the job?
• Fordham should just hire alumnus Mike Rice of Robert Morris. He's a sound, intense coach. Would they get a bigger name? Probably not.
The hot names: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Steve Donahue, Cornell; Tony Barbee, UTEP.
Barbee should be in play at DePaul and Auburn if he chooses to leave what could be another CUSA champ at UTEP next season.
Jacobson should be patient and make sure he doesn't do something that doesn't make sense (such as going to a bottom-dweller).
Donahue needs to leave Cornell if he wants to climb. The Big Red may never be at this point again. But Donahue is comfortable, so if the right move isn't out there, he should be patient.
A few random thoughts from the first weekend:
• The Mountain West Conference did a sensational job of getting four teams in the NCAA tournament. All four teams represented well in either the first or second round. But not getting a team in the Sweet 16 still limits the MWC from being treated with true credibility as a proven elite league. The MWC must break through with a Sweet 16 team soon.
• Decisions abound for the NBA draft among players who were ousted in the first weekend. Remember, under a new NCAA rule, players have until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA draft. That means there will be roughly a week to make a decision on staying in the draft (the NBA deadline to withdraw is still 10 days before the draft). There won't be much time for workouts.
So from the teams that have lost, who has to make decisions about leaving for the NBA or at least testing the draft for a week?
Georgetown: Greg Monroe
Gonzaga: Elias Harris.
Florida State: Solomon Alabi.
UTEP: Derrick Caracter.
BYU: Jimmer Fredette
• For the record, Butler athletic director Barry Collier said he wasn't fired at Nebraska and left more than $1 million on his contract to return to his alma mater.